After six years in office during which the federal asset forfeiture program was widely criticized as an abuse of police powers, Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that federal law enforcement would no longer benefit from money or property seized by state and local police.
The controversial practice known as “Asset Forfeiture” allowed state and local police to seize property and money from people that police believe might have gained through illegal means even when the individual is not found guilty of or even charged with a crime.
Holder was quick to add that the use of asset forfeiture as a law enforcement tool would not end entirely since state and local police could continue the practices but that the federal government could not benefit from the property seized.
Under the existing laws, local police may easily seize and keep property they acquired through searches – even during something as routine as a traffic stop. The policy leaves open the door for forfeitures in cases involving public safety or during joint operations between state and federal law enforcement.
Writing for The Washington Times, reporter Phillip Swarts said “civil rights advocates complained that the federal government’s acceptance of the seized cash and property — so called “adoptions” — was essentially allowing police to steal from citizens.”
Speaking for the American Civil Liberties Union, Washington Legislative Office Director Laura Murphy said “this is a significant advancement to reform a practice that is a clear violation of due process”… and that Congress and state governments should pass legislation to end the practice of seizing innocent Americans’ property and protect their due process rights.”
Action by the Attorney General came in the wake of a letter sent to Holder earlier this month from a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives urging that he end the practice.
Congressional signers said “we are concerned that these seizures might circumvent state forfeiture law restrictions, create improper incentives on the part of state and local law enforcement, and unnecessarily burden our federal authorities…”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, (R-IA), the new Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of the congressmen who signed the letter said he was “thankful” the DOJ (Department of Justice) has chosen to limit the practice. Going further, Grassley said:
“The rule of law ought to be about protecting innocent people.” “Too often we’ve seen just the opposite with civil asset forfeiture laws. The practice up to this point had perverse incentives and violated some state laws.”